Ancestral Recall


My first book — Ancestral Recall: The Celtic Revival and Japanese Modernism (McGill-Queen’s UP, 2016) — analyzes the geopolitical relationships between heritage, tradition, and translation in the formation of the modernist social order as construed by localized lore and cultural recovery.

I am donating all royalties earned from this book to Stonewall Cymru.


My first book Ancestral Recall: The Celtic Revival and Japanese Modernism was published last year (McGill-Queen’s UP, 2016). By examining Celtic and Japanese modernism, I demonstrate that folklore cannot be understood solely in terms of individual nations but must be situated within a global nexus of movements, ideas, and influences. Ancestral Recall analyzes Celtic nationalism, regional dialects, and globalization in the twentieth century. Eager to insulate tradition from the homogenizing forces of globalization, yet profoundly aware that traditions cannot be divorced from living cultural practices—Celtic nationalism developed a new conception of heritage that can exist within the transnational contexts of modernity, one that is locally produced but internationally circulated.  Irish and Japanese folklorists influenced each other through various ways in which heritage takes shape (voices, landscapes, ghosts, etc). My wonderful editor at McGill-Queen’s UP — Mr Mark Abley — is himself a prize-winning author with experience and expertise  in minority languages activism.

In particular, Ancestral Recall (hc/pb/ebook) theorizes a sense of comparative modernity by detangling the interchanges of anthropological texts and nativist folklore in the modernist network of power, translation, and heritage. My interlingual studies pursue a transnational dynamic between two island geographies, Japan and Ireland.

I wrote most of Ancestral Recall while sponsored by a SSHRC postdoctoral fellowship award (2012-2013). The Awards to Scholarly Publications Program funded the printing and publication costs with a grant. In evaluating the manuscript, an anonymous peer reviewer commented, “The author’s command of the Irish, English and Japanese languages and literatures is unprecedented in the comparative scholarship and criticism in these fields.” My book has been described with this pithy blurb:  “A comparative modernist study of the connections between Irish and Japanese literature, opening up uncharted avenues of cross-cultural exchange.”

Publisher’s synopsis:

“Despite distance and differences in culture, the early twentieth century was a time of literary cross-pollination between Ireland and Japan. Notably, the Irish poet and playwright William Butler Yeats had a powerful influence on Japanese letters, at the same time that contemporary and classical Japanese literature and theatre impacted Yeats’s own literary experiments.

Citing an extraordinary range of Japanese and Irish texts, Aoife Hart argues that Japanese translations of Irish Gaelic folklore and their subsequent reception back in Ireland created collisions, erasures, and confusions in the interpretations of literary works. Assessing the crucial roles of translation and transnationalism in cross-cultural exchanges between the Celtic Revival and Japanese writers of the modern period, Hart proves that interlingual dialogue and folklore have the power to reconstruct a culture’s sense of heritage. Rejecting the notion that the Celtic Revival was inward and parochial, Hart suggests that, seeking to protect their heritage from the forces of globalization, the Irish adapted their understanding of heritage to one that exists within the transnational contexts of modernity – a heritage that is locally produced but internationally circulated. In doing so, Hart maintains that the cultural contact and translation between the East and West traveled in more than one direction: it was a dialogue presenting modernity’s struggles with cosmopolitanism, gender, ethnic identity, and transnationalism.

An inspired exploration of transpacific literary criticism, Yeats scholarship, and twentieth-century Japanese literature, Ancestral Recall tracks the interplay of complex ideas across languages and discourses.”

     What others are saying …

“Ancestral Recall is a comparative study of two literatures with strong oral and folkloric traditions emerging under the impact of empire and modernization. But more than just a comparison of two regional literatures at opposite ends of the world-Irish and Japanese-Hart provides an altogether persuasive argument for a critique of nation, modernization theory, and essentialist notions of ‘East’ and ‘West.’ She is a brilliant and wonderfully articulate writer, gifted of many eloquent turns of phrase.”

Cody Poulton,

Professor of Japanese Literature and Theatre (Department of Pacific and Asian Studies), University of Victoria

—                                                                        —                                                                           —

“Ancestral Recall is fascinating – original, perceptive, and extremely well-researched.”

Rob Doggett,

Professor and Chair (Department of English), SUNY Geneseo

—                                                                         —                                                                             —

“While there is plentiful scholarship that characterizes Yeats’s forays into the forms of classical Noh as a sort of Orientalist mimicry, Hart expands the discussion by instead aligning Yeats with modernist Japanese playwrights who were reinventing the genre at the same time as he wrote Noh-inspired plays like At the Hawk’s Well. The dreamlike haunted landscapes of these plays invoke the concept of twilight, bringing together past events and present conditions in specific geographic locations to facilitate consideration of traumatic historical events and loss.

Hart refers to an astonishing number of texts in both English and Japanese, noting that previous work on the connection between Irish and Japanese literature rarely references texts in Japanese. Simply harmonizing so many sources is an achievement, but her handling of secondary sources, particularly those that contradict her, is impressive in its thoroughness and intellectual fairness.”

              Mathilde Lind, Indiana University of Bloomington

The Journal of Folklore Research



23 Comments on “Ancestral Recall

  1. I’d like to first say your harping is absolutely beautiful. Then I’d like to say you have an amazing voice in terms of word-choice augmenting personality and conveying the kind of honest passion that’s great to see anywhere. 🙂

  2. Touched by ‘A Letter for My Unmet Niece.’ You are a gifted writer with a talent for words that touches people’s hearts.

  3. Incredibly moving your letter to your niece. You are what you recommend Katie to be ‘a tidal force of energy’!

  4. Hi Aoife, I’m a fan of your writing who found your blog through Shakesville. I’m considering volunteering at the UVic conference on Moving Trans* History Forward and want to make sure that would not be strange for you (possibly running into a stranger who has read your blog). Could you send me an email please? [Redacted information] Thank you!

    Also thank you for writing so many interesting, moving, sensitive, and blindingly intelligent things!

  5. LM Montgomery?! Lady, you may be the coolest person ever. If I were Katie, I’d be pissed at my parents for keeping you from me.

  6. Your writing makes me poke all my friends and say: “Wait, stop, let me just read this to you…”

    I love how you approach the problems of language and gender discourse. (EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS! I think, loudly, because that’s how I think when I’m excited…)

    ‘Words don’t burn but bodies do’, for instance… I started with a paragraph, but then: ‘No wait, also this! You need to hear this!’ and ended up reading the whole thing out loud to my husband and a dear friend of mine. (They loved it.) I wanted to send you an email, because gushing at random internet people about how much I love their words is the kind of thing I do, but, understandably perhaps, couldn’t find such a direct channel.

    So here. Have some admiration and gratitude for your writing. If you want more, I’ve got a ton in the back…

  7. I loved today’s post, for July 7 was also my first shot of estrogen, so now I feel like I have another birthday to share! Strangely enough, my HRT doctor shares my actual birth date, being three years younger than m.

    I love your writing, and the feelings you put into each post. Be you. Always be you.

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  11. Your brilliant and inspiring. You are able to share honest, unapologetic insights. I myself have begin to let go of some rather muddleheaded and slushy thinking; it is my hope I can share as well as you do whatever insights that come ,any that might be of any possible use, with those that reflect , no burn for comprehension of this beast called gender.
    take care

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  13. I have just this minute read a Radical Feminist statement which made me instantly recall this discussion…

    “Woman is not born; she is made. In the making, her humanity is destroyed.”

    (Andrea Dworkin, “Pornography”, p. 128 from Chapter 4: Objects)

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  15. Dear Aoife,

    I am glad that you exist, and that you give us this blog to read. It is full of thoughts that interest me greatly, and the way that you write makes me feel I am hearing from another living being who has feelings that are perhaps sometimes quite as strange and intricate as my own.

    I am a trans being also… a kind of woman, if I daresay. And, I love Jesus and the Blessed Mother, and think of St. Therese. I am not Catholic, but I might be. I want to be. I go to Mass, and Adoration, and pray the Rosary sometimes. I pray for light on what to do with my trans self.

    I just read your latest posting, reflections on the Pope’s recent remarks. Thank you for sharing your insights (you seem to be more plugged into some of the intricacies around the questions and the challenges than I am), and for your personal remarks.

    I do so look forward to your book also.

    Maybe this is possible, reconciling this life. I do not know. I do not feel that the telling of trans offered in the worldly mainstream does me much good, or gives me a sane grounding for my experience, really. I want something that is wholesome and Godly and true. I would give up being trans altogether, except that I do not think it would be possible, really.

    What is to become of me? Ah! What is to become of me? I stay tuned to find out. Tuned to my heart, tuned to God as I am able… and tuned to others who have things to share about these things that matter much to me.

    I hope that you will keep writing. I will keep reading. And praying.

    Thank you.

    Bless you.


    • Thank you so kindly, Erin. I appreciate the trust and sincerity with which you’ve shared such deeply personal and soul-baring testimony. And your encouragement means so much to me. I have very few readers on this blog; and to know that, in whatever tiny way, I may have given some piece of what I’ve learned about God’s love as a transsexual woman — well, my writing isn’t a total failure.

      God bless you. Your message arrived at a moment of profound discouragement. xx


  16. Hello Dear Aoife,

    I was disappointed that you didn’t leave your post, A Catholic Transsexual Applauds Several Points in Latest Papal Remarks, open for comments.

    As someone who was raised in a very conservative, old-world (Italian) Catholic family, but stopped going to Mass years ago, your post made me feel much better about myself. I have considered myself transsexual as far back as I can remember. I should have transitioned in my 20’s, but support groups and the Internet were not available back then. My Catholic upbringing made me feel that doing so was a sin. Finally, I stopped receiving the Eucharist and later just stopped going to Mass. I felt, and still feel, that I am a sinner not worthy of the Church. I still consider myself Catholic however. I’ll note that had I pursued transition in the era of Renee Richards, my parents would have most likely disowned me or forced me into some sort of treatment.

    It’s a very lonely life, living with these feelings. Like Joanna, another Catholic blogger, I am coming to terms with myself and this post could be the start of my return to the world of a practicing Catholic. I’ll note that I met a woman several years ago who helped me a lot. She was a bit older than me and transitioned in her early 20’s in South America. Now, she is married, successful, living life to the fullest and is a Eucharistic Minister for her church.


    • Hello, Calie!

      Thanks for reading my blog and sharing what must be a difficult and painful reckoning with your transsexuality. (I don’t leave comments open on posts because they get overwhelmed very quickly with nastiness.)

      It gives me tremendous happiness, in these uncertain and liminal times for women like us in the Church, that I might have inspired a desire to reconsider engaging with the Church once again. Please know my prayers will be with you. No, it’s not easy. But we do it for Him — not “them”.

      /touch heart. Thank you for reaching out. It’s also lonely from where I’m sitting. xx

  17. Hello again, Aoife.

    I just got the email notifying me of another post on your blog, and when I read it, I immediately wanted to write a comment in reply. I will hold no hard feelings if you choose not to approve this comment, but I thought I would post it, that you at least might read it.

    I do not like that someone is picking on you, and I do not like that they are maligning transsexual women.

    (I understand you have seen plenty of this sort of response before. It still turns a knife in my heart.)

    This is what I see in nonny’s comment:

    1. Delight in expressing belittling disdain for another person.

    2. Wanton misgendering, which presumably seeks to wound, and anyway introduces dissonance into the discussion so as to undermine the original author’s voice. (I kept catching myself questioning who this “him” is that is being referenced in the comment, causing a little hiccup of cognitive dissonance.)

    3. Liberal use of words like “skeevy,” “coerce,” “rape,” and “violate,” heavy-handedly invoking a tired old narrative, and using the horror and taboo that society feels around the topic of sexual violation to manipulate perceptions and add heft to the club one has fashioned to bash another with.

    But it is overmuch to be pictured in a veil next to a statue of Our Lady?

    Why is going whole-hog with all the trappings of trans-antagonistic nastiness perfectly OK, while expressing oneself on one’s own blog, and being pictured there with some of the trappings of one’s faith (regardless of how too-much they may seem to someone else), is cause for derision?

    As a trad-leaning Catholic, I should think nonny could do better than this about putting into practice what is only like the most generic Christian precept ever: love one another as Jesus has loved us. One may have a different perspective on these questions, but that does not justify this gratuitous unkindness.

    • I appreciate your comment very much, Erin. Everything you say resounds very much with me. And I thank you kindly for your encouraging, supportive, and sisterly words. (The excerpts I posted were, as you can imagine, from a rather broad selection of nastiness I could choose from.)

      I am not a bit surprised by the fashion comments: as you say, it’s my blog, and I attire myself and honour Mary, my mother, and the Tabernacle as I choose — not for anyone else but her and her Son. Many Catholic women my age have found the contemplative practice of veiling for Mass to be a very precious method of preparing oneself to receive Our Lord. I find great peace and renewal in this discipline.

      Regardless of what anyone else thinks — and it’s never about them, it’s about Him: for Him, to Him, unto Him — forever and always, amen. And Our Lady knows why I have taken up this custom, which I do so without shame or embarrassment. Worshipful attention helps us to rise above the censure or mockery of which Christ himself unequivocally advises us will come.

      So called ‘radical feminists’ — anti-life and anti-everything-else — attempt to present me as false, fraudulent, foolish, and so forth are all attempts to do one thing: avoid the fact that I’m proud of my Faith.

      There is no “overmuch” when it comes to showing devotion to Our Lady. And I will never be ashamed of how much my heart aches in adoration for her.

      Please accept my prayers of gratefulness, in the name of today’s Luminous Mysteries, for the sympathy, commiseration, and solidarity you have shown me. You are a precious soul in God’s garden, where I hope to grow in adoration of Mary and Her son alongside of you.

      ❤ Much love.

      Matthew 7:16 — May God forgive me for all the cruelty I myself have sinfully committed in my life.

  18. Hello, I ask this question not in an accusatory manner, but respectfully, because I truly seek to understand & am struggling with this. How do you reconcile your transsexuality with the Church’s Theology of the Body, where our bodies & souls together are what make us male or female, as God did when he created us in the beginning? Thank you.

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